Tracking Back: Weekend Review

A nasty stomach flu overran the Backpost compound on Sunday, flattening everything in its path and shutting down HQ for more than 24 hours. So let’s play catch-up:

Here is the most exciting moment from the first 40 minutes of the loaded encounter between John Terry‘s Chelsea and Wayne Bridge‘s Manchester City:

Oh, snap! But the game that followed was surprisingly dull for almost the entire first half, only coming to life in the 42nd minute when Frank Lampard made a run behind the City backline, took a pass from Joe Cole, and clanged one in off the far post.

Chelsea fans may have thought they were on their way, but just two minutes later Carlos Tevez got on the end of a booming clearance by Bridge (yes), and outmaneuvered Terry (that’s right) before beating Chelsea’s backup keeper Henrique Hilario (Petr Cech is hurt) with the slowest of slow rollers to the far post.

With the game properly heated up, all hell broke loose in the second half. Six minutes in, the pugnacious Craig Bellamy picked up the ball just inside his own half and launched a 60-meter run at Chelsea defender John Obi Mikel before beating Hilario (fairly easily) to the far post.

In the 76th minute Juliano Belletti brushed Gareth Barry in the box, the City midfielder went down, and the ref pointed to the spot, then went to his book for Belletti: straight red for fouling as the last man back.

City probably wouldn’t have protested too loudly if no call had been made—so slight was the contact—but the ref didn’t hesitate, and Tevez buried the spot kick for a 3-1 lead.

Now emotions started to flare, as Tevez got in Terry’s face after the two scuffled on the Chelsea endline. Bellamy joined in, and City fans probably loved it, even if they might’ve preferred the beefy Micah Richards or the 6-4 Vincent Kompany for the job, rather than the two smallest players on their roster.

After Michael Ballack was sent off for a reckless scissoring tackle on Tevez, reducing Chelsea to nine men, Bellamy finished off a City counter-attack, turning in a pass from Shaun Wright-Phillips to make it 4-1. Lampard’s 90th-minute penalty served only to window-dress the scoreline for the Blues.

With Arsenal’s 3-1 win at Stoke City—in which rising Gunners star Aaron Ramsey had his tibia and fibula broken by a horrific challenge from Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross—the top of the table has tightened back into three-horse race. Chelsea leads with 61 points, but Manchester United (60) and Arsenal (58) are very much alive with ten games to play.

Following the Chelsea game, Bellamy was asked about Terry, and offered up the following:

“I know what J.T.’s like and nothing surprises me about it, so I’m not going to comment on that guy. I think everyone in football knows what he’s like.”

Ha. That was a neat trick: Sandwiching, “I’m not going to comment on that guy,” in between withering comments on that guy.

If U.S. players are looking for bulletin-board material on Terry ahead of their June 12 World Cup meeting with England, they can comb through this litany of off-field incidents involving the former England captain, and zero in on his alleged taunting of American tourists at Heathrow airport on Sept 12, 2001.

One of the U.S. players who could be squaring off against Terry in that game, winger Stuart Holden, made his Premiership debut on Saturday, starting and going the distance as Bolton defeated Yank keeper Marcus Hahnemman and Wolverhampton 1-0 to climb out of the drop zone. Holden played well, and challenged Hahnemann—who also had a good game, making six saves—on two occasions. Wolves hit the post twice in this one.

In Saturday’s other games, financially troubled last-place side Portsmouth had a ray of sunshine punch through the gloom in the form of a 2-1 road win over Burnley, and Birmingham gritted out a 1-0 win over Wigan to reach the 40-point mark for the season, all but ensuring survival in the Premiership—something Burnley (23 points, 19th place) and Wigan (25, 16th) will have to fight for during their final 11 games.

Two Yanks took the field on Sunday, and one of them, Everton’s Landon Donovan, would like to have his performance to do over: After coming on as a second-half substitute, LD missed a sitter at the far post with 12 minutes remaining that would have lifted the Toffees into a 2-2 tie with Tottenham. They lost 2-1.

Sunday’s other American in action was Aston Villa keeper Brad Friedel, who got the nod over countryman Brad Guzan as the Villans faced Manchester United in the Carling Cup final at Wembley. Friedel made eight saves, but could not prevent United’s rally from a 1-0 deficit to a 2-1 victory. The winner came, in the 74 th minute, from—no surprise here—Wayne Rooney.

Clint Dempsey, who is nearing a return from his knee injury, watched as his Fulham teammates played to a scoreless draw with Sunderland, while at Anfield, Liverpool downed Blackburn 2-1 to keep pace with Tottenham and Manchester City for the fourth—and final Champions League—spot in the table. Fernando Torres notched the winner in his first start since Jan 13.

Up in Glasgow, U.S. midfielder Maurice Edu was the man of the hour for Rangers, scoring in the dying moments to give his team a 1-0 win over archrival Celtic. The victory puts Rangers 10 points clear of Celtic, with a game in hand, at the top of the SPL table. Edu’s countryman DaMarcus Beasley dressed but did not play. 

Here is Edu’s goal: